The recent Ministerial Statement by Tasmanian Resources Minister Guy Barnett, and the strong negative reaction it provoked from both the community and the forest industry got me thinking about the wish list I wrote last year.
So I’ve decided to update my Wish List.
Does Tasmania want a successful forest industry?
If so then here are a few ideas:
- Government policy
Tasmanian Government forest policy continues to focus on public native forest, a failed State forest agency, and protecting local jobs at any cost. If we adopted this same thinking for any other primary industry Tasmania would be an economic basket case. Our politicians and large sections of the forest industry and the community still think of the forest industry as a community service, a government employment program.
Sorry guys but it’s the 21st century.
The only basis for a successful modern forest industry is profitable tree growing.
Most wood now grown and sold in Australia comes from private tree growers.
It is time to put the policy focus on profitable private tree growers and away from public native forest and a failed State forest agency.
Implementing the Federal Government’s Farm Forestry National Action Statement 2005 would be a good place to begin.
- Government structure
We need to think of forestry as a primary industry and not as a Government-run, politically-driven, taxpayer-funded employment program.
One example of this change would be to move Private Forests Tasmania (PFT) from the Department of State Growth Tasmania to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE). At the moment this DPIPWE website contains no mention of forestry at all:
Why isn’t forestry regarded as a primary industry in Tasmania?
Why isn’t Private Forests Tasmania part of DPIPWE?
So that all commercial forest policy and practice is aligned with primary industry policy the Government Minister responsible for PFT/DPIPWE should also be responsible for Forestry Tasmania. Now does that sound logical or what?
- Private Forests Tasmania
Following from the above logic Private Forests Tasmania needs to become the dominant Government forest agency, NOT Forestry Tasmania.
- Forestry Tasmania
And following on we need to get the politics, conflict and the anti-competitive policies out of the industry. That means either a) completely transforming Forestry Tasmania into an independent, fully commercial, profitable business, or b) shutting down public native forest logging.
The future of the forest industry is plantations. And like all primary industries the only basis for a successful forest industry is for (public and private) tree growing to be transparently profitable. The forest industry and the Government need to do everything they can to encourage profitable market-driven plantation investment. No scams!! See below for my comments on forest practices and markets and transparency for two ways to achieve this.
- Native forests
If there is any value/profitability at all left in logging Tasmanian native forest it must be pretty marginal. The Tasmanian Oak brand has been pretty well trashed over the last 50 years. Commercially managing native forest is a very costly operation. The only way it can be viable is by producing very high value products from most of the resource. This has never happened. Certainly in the pulp and construction markets, which account for the vast majority of the wood market, native forests don’t stand a chance competing against plantation-grown wood.
- Special Timbers
Using scarce taxpayers money to cut down 400+ year old public native rainforest and oldgrowth in the 21st century, with the excuse that special timbers are an essential part of “Brand Tasmania”, makes no sense whatsoever. All wood production must be fully commercial and profitable. There must be no community-service forestry in Australia. Given that blackwood makes up the vast majority of special timbers production anyway, and it can be grown in commercial plantations, the focus of special timbers policy must change.
- Forest practices
I have four thoughts here:
- The current Tasmanian forest practices code was developed when community-service public native forestry dominated the industry. However in the spirit of over-regulation it provided a significant hurdle to private plantation development. The forest practices code needs to be reviewed within the light of the following three comments.
- We need to create a primary industries level playing field when it comes to environmental management, so that regulation does not distort land use decisions. New Zealand has this approach to “forest practices” with their Resource Management Act 1991. I don’t see why Tasmania should not follow their example.
- Following on from b) the Tasmanian Forest Practices Authority should be merged with the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Authority to provide environmental monitoring, regulation and research services across all jurisdictions. Why does the forest industry need its own separate environmental regulation system?
- The Australian forest industry should work towards developing a single set of national plantation management guidelines for the whole country as much as it is able within the maze of different State jurisdictions. At the moment regulations governing plantation management vary enormously across Australia. This is stupid and anticompetitive. It will be a long process but a worthy goal.
- Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) needs to become a genuine independent, vigorous advocate for private forest growers. The interests of private forest growers are not the same as those of sawmillers, or Forestry Tasmania nor the Government of the day. A thriving commercially competitive, profitable forest industry can only exist when private tree growers have a strong, fearless, independent voice. The TFGA is the only option currently available.
- Competition, prices, markets and transparency
The forest industry in Australia hates open market processes and transparency! This is not surprising given its history. When was the last time you saw a forestry market report in the Australian media? When was the last time you saw a sawmiller hang out his slate looking to buy sawlogs?
In my books this is the major challenge for the industry. There have been a few attempts in the past to change this but they have failed due to lack of industry support. The industry will have no future until it becomes fully commercial – aggressively commercial!!! It’s all about competition, prices, markets and transparency. Farmers will never take the forest industry seriously until this happens.
- Where to begin?
Tasmania is a great place for growing trees for wood production.
But Tasmania is a small island a long way from world markets.
Because of our size and remoteness we cannot compete well in commodity markets like pulpwood and construction timber. We must think small volume high value niche markets such as appearance grade timbers and timbers for specialty markets. New Zealand farmers are doing this. But it needs focus and a strategy, not a random shotgun approach. One obvious example is macrocarpa cypress. There is a growing demand for this timber, as a handful of people in Tasmania know very well. NZ has thousands of hectares of cypress plantation growing on farms. Why doesn’t Tasmania?
Tasmanian blackwood provides another ideal example of a low volume high value forest product with which to help rebuild the forest industry. Quality appearance grade timber will always be sort after in the market, especially the super premium market. Tasmania could easily be producing 30,000 cubic metres of premium blackwood sawlog per year with the right policy and industry backing. At $500 per cubic metre that equates to $15 million in farm gate value per year. So where is the policy and industry support that will make this happen?
Unfortunately all of these ideas are so beyond current forest industry and political thinking they will never happen.
Certainly Minister Barnett’s Ministerial Statement contains nothing like the above plan.
No one is campaigning in Tasmania for private forest growers and a fully commercial profitable forest industry!
Tasmania does a good job running a successful dairy industry; and a pretty good job running beef, vegetable, apple, cherry and wine industries. So what is it about the forest industry?
When will Tasmania get a fully commercial profitable forest industry?